Bring Chicago Home: Guess who’s saying no again – Windy City Times

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Chicago is ushering in an era of change with a new progressive mayor with a vision to invest in communities long ignored and a significant increase in like-minded city council members. We are excited to see the vision being realized with two strong ordinances supporting workers, an increase in wages for tipped workers and guaranteed paid leave, passing in the last two months.

And now Bring Chicago Home, a proposal to increase the real estate transfer tax (RETT) on properties over $1 million, and reduce the tax on properties that sell for less than that, to create permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, is on the ballot and building momentum towards delivering on an urgent need.

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What hasn’t changed is who’s saying no this vision. The Illinois REALTORS®, Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance and the Chicago Association of REALTORS® have lined up in opposition to Bring Chicago Home, a well-crafted, compromise proposal that is the most significant local funding proposal to address homelessness at scale since the problem first took root decades ago.

As advocates working in Chicago and Illinois to create affordable housing and tenant protections, end homelessness and promote fair housing, these are familiar opponents to us. Over and over again, when we work to advance a key initiative to address these critical issues, the real estate lobby pulls out all the stops to prevent it and claims the sky is falling and their businesses will collapse.

Some recent examples include the Illinois REALTORS® fighting against proposals to give judges more discretion to seal eviction records, which cause discrimination against tenants even when the tenant did not lose the eviction case. In 2020, Chicago’s Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance opposed a city ordinance that gives renters more notice when a landlord decides to not renew a tenant’s lease, a common practice in areas facing gentrification.

Also, for almost two decades the Illinois REALTORS® lobbied against legislation to make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against people who receive public or private support for their housing before dropping their opposition in the face of multiple community organizing campaigns.

Why do they oppose these common sense proposals that help alleviate poverty and the affordable housing crisis? Because they are focused on making as much profit as possible even when their policies and practices lead to an increase in homelessness. This is part of a long pattern of how the real estate industry has inflicted deep and long-lasting harm on Chicago’s neighborhoods, especially Black and brown communities.

From the historical legacy of blockbusting and other discriminatory practices that created the racial segregation that is still so harmful to Chicago, to the market-driven policies of today that often result in people being displaced from affordable neighborhoods and homes, the real estate lobby has driven up housing prices and promoted homelessness.

It is imperative that we not let the real estate industry stonewall solutions to the very problem they helped create.

Dedicated funding for housing is a best practice solution nationwide. There are 47 states, including Illinois, and 700 cities and counties with legally dedicated funds for affordable housing. Cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, New York, and Miami have recognized that dedicated local funding is critical to addressing a problem of this scale.

History has shown that once these policies go into effect, the market continues on, development and investment continue, and the real estate industry still makes profits. Cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles with higher real estate transfer taxes continue to have thriving real estate markets and continue to see investment.

So when you get those mailers at your house this fall or see those ads on your TV telling you that Bring Chicago Home will cause your rent to go up, your property taxes to go up, and crime will increase in your neighborhood, know that these messages are false and think hard about if they are being delivered with your self-interest in mind, or someone else’s.

The truth is that there are record numbers of our neighbors who are struggling to afford housing. Bring Chicago Home addresses housing affordability, public safety and brings in mental health and other support services that will make the difference. We urgently need to dedicate money to a solution that gets people into permanent homes—and if the real estate lobby doesn’t want to help deliver a win and support Bring Chicago Home, they shouldn’t stand in the way.

Bob Palmer is policy director of Housing Action Illinois. He has more than 30 years of experience in housing organizing, advocacy, training, and finance. Mark Swartz, executive director at Law Center for Better Housing, has advocated for renters’ rights for over 20 years.

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